The other day, I got an email from a faculty member. A scholarly society he is a member of just announced that their journals would now be available in JSTOR. He went straight to JSTOR to look them up, only to see that he didn’t have access. He promptly sent me an email saying, essentially, “What’s up with this? Shouldn’t we have access?” (Although his actual email was more eloquent).
In fact, we don’t have access, and it would cost us an additional $1000 to have access to those journals via JSTOR.
For non-librarian types (students, faculty, everyone else), there isn’t always a clear understanding of how they have access to information.
In the case of JSTOR above, most folks don’t understand the difference between the platform and the content (and quite frankly, they don’t really need to). In this case, JSTOR is simply a platform for delivering journal articles. You have to buy the content, and that tends to come in specific chunks. In my library, we subscribe to several of the packages that JSTOR offers, and we have current access to some of the journals that are available via that platform.
But just because we have access to some content on JSTOR doesn’t mean we have access to everything. The same can be said of other platforms like ScienceDirect from Elsevier, or Project Muse (for any humanities folks out there).
In much the same way, it can be difficult for folks to understand that libraries don’t always have access to journal articles direct from the publisher’s website. We have access to a lot of journals via third party aggregators, like Proquest or the Ebsco packages.
For example, a student or researcher wants an article from the current issue of the Journal of Parasitology, and goes directly to the journal homepage. When they get there, they encounter a paywall, asking for $20 for access to that article. The student or researcher might think that they either have to fork over the money or move on to a different article.
While the student searches for a new research topic, a PDF of this exact article is sitting in our “MEDLINE with Full Text” database ready for them to download. We’ve already paid for the content, just not through the journal website. Our current access to this journal is via a different platform.
In library instruction sessions we try to teach students to go through the library homepage to check on journal access, but it isn’t always the most intuitive thing to do. And some students can go their entire undergraduate careers without seeing a librarian in their classes. We also teach them to use special links we put into databases that will guide them through the library system (we call ours “Get It,” the generic term is OpenURL), but the databases don’t always help us out here. Some databases provide direct-to-publisher links which, as we’ve seen, don’t always lead to the content.
Is this confusing? Yes. Could it be simpler? Yes, but it would require a complete rethinking of the whole scholarly communication system. Open access, anyone?